State Your Case: Why E.J. Holub and some AFL greats deserve consideration
Lamar Hunt was going to bring professional football to Texas and build a team with Texans for Texans.
Hunt tried and failed for years to land an NFL franchise so he decided to start his own league and set up a team in his adopted hometown of Dallas, the Texans. The NFL set up its own franchise in Dallas to compete with the AFL Texans, the Cowboys.
When the two franchises participated in their respective college drafts in 1961, the Cowboys took TCU defensive lineman Bob Lilly and the Texans took Texas Tech linebacker E.J. Holub with their first-round selections. They would be the showcase elements of fledgling teams courting a Texas crowd.
Lilly became every bit the player the Cowboys had hoped he’d be. He played 14 seasons, went to 11 Pro Bowls, helping his team reach a Super Bowl in 1971 and win a Super Bowl in 1972. Holub became every bit the player the Texans had hoped he’d be. He played 10 seasons, went to five AFL all-star games and helped his team reach a Super Bowl in 1967 and win a Super Bowl in 1970.
Lilly has since been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Holub’s career, however, has never been discussed by the Hall’s selection committee. Both players are, however, in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Holub persevered through a series of knee injuries and surgeries that eventually forced him into retirement in 1971. Knee injuries ended his seasons prematurely in both 1964 and 1967. Holub underwent six surgeries on his left knee and five more on his right during his career.
Holub started at three different positions for the Texans, who would move to Kansas City in 1963 and become the Chiefs. Holub started at left outside linebacker as a rookie, then moved to the right side in 1964. He moved over to offense to play center in 1968 and started there for two seasons before his creaky knees reduced him to a deep snapper in his final season in 1970.
Holub remains the only player to start on both offense and defense in Super Bowl history. He played right outside linebacker in Super Bowl I and had a team-leading eight tackles in that 35-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Then he played center in Super Bowl IV when the Chiefs rushed for 151 yards against the Purple People Eaters and shocked the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7.
Holub started 113 games in the 1960s as the Chiefs became the dominant team of the AFL era. The Chiefs won more games (87) and more championships (three) than any other team and played in two of the first four Super Bowls. But when he was 32, team doctors told Holub he had the knees of an 80-year-old. He has since had two post-career knee surgeries, pushing his lifetime count to 13 and now, at 80, he remains in pain.
Holub was a two-time All-America at Texas Tech and the first player in school history to have his jersey (55) retired. Holub was enshrined in the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1976 and was declared a Big 12 “legend” by the conference in 2012. But that’s where his honors came to an end.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee never warmed to the AFL players of the 1960s like it has the NFL players. Twenty-one of the NFL’s 22 first-team all-decade position players have been enshrined in Canton. Only nine of the 22 position players on the AFL's all-time team have been enshrined. So great AFL players like Holub, Ed Budde, Tom Sestak and George Saimes remain on the outside looking in.
Are all of them Hall of Famers? Are any of them Hall of Famers? We’ll never know until their candidacies are finally discussed.